Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Newsletter, October, 2014
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News From the Farm
This BIG Piggie Goes to Market
Mmm, bacon! Got room in your freezer? If not, it’s time to buy another freezer, because we’re about a week away from converting our pigs into pork. These happy outdoor pigs have been moved to fresh patches of pasture as they wreck the one they’re on, and have been fed on high-quality feed, whole grain, and the many cracked and stained eggs that are a yummy byproduct of our free-range egg operation.
The Most Comprehensive Baby Chick Checklist Anywhere!
Day-old Black Sex-Link chicks and an Ohio heat-lamp brooder.
Raising day-old chicks isn’t hard, and is delightful when everything turns out right. but doing it right involves a number of steps. You’ll have more success and fewer surprises if you use this handy checklist to stay on track.
This checklist is adapted from my book, Success With Baby Chicks. Some items in the checklist point you to different chapters in the book if you need more information.
Before Ordering Your Day-Old Chicks
Prepare the Brooder Area
- If you don’t already have a brooder house, build one or adapt an existing structure. See Chapter 14.
- Clear away any brush or trash that may have accumulated around the brooder house.
- Examine the brooder house for leaks in the roof, gaps in the floor, and rat holes—and fix them.
- If there are signs of rodents, set out traps or bait now, so the rodents are gone before the baby chicks arrive.
- If there is an infestation of roost mites or other noxious bugs, treat the brooder house now. This is most likely if other poultry have been kept in the house until recently. See Chapter 15.
- If there is old litter in the house, decide whether you are going to re-use it. If so, prepare it as described in Chapter 13. Otherwise, remove the old litter and put in new.
- Acquire or build a brooder, draft guard, baby chick feeders, and baby chick waterers. See Chapter 5.
- Remove any feed left over from last time. Day-old chicks need fresh feed.
- Unless the weather is hot, close up the brooder house by closing all the windows and covering any sizable openings with tarps, sheets of plastic, or plastic feed sacks.
DANGER! If you are using vent-free propane brooders, it is possible for carbon monoxide to build up to lethal levels in a tightly closed brooder house. Install a carbon monoxide alarm if you’re going to use propane brooders in a tight house.
Robert Plamondon’s Poultry Newsletter, Sept 2014
News From the Farm
We’re in the busiest time of the year, but things are moving along pretty well. Our pastured pigs haven’t escaped for a while. Egg production is holding steady. The local predators seem to be finding their food elsewhere. The weather is hot and dry, and the grass is browning off, but this brief excursion from Western Oregon’s trademark “cool, damp, and green” is normal.
Baby Chicks in September? Seriously?
Everyone thinks of springtime when they think of brooding baby chicks, but fall is my personal favorite. It’s warmer and drier, and while things get colder and wetter as fall turns into winter, the baby chicks get older and hardier before the weather has time to get bad. September and October are both good times for brooding in most climates.
What is scratch feed, anyway?
Scratch feed is both a feeding method and a type of feed:
- Scratch feed as a feeding method: It’s scratch feed if you feed it by scattering it on the ground (hens reveal morsels of feed and move it around by scratching at it with their feet).
- Scratch feed as a type of feed: Whole grains and coarsely cracked grains are suited for feeding scattered on the ground, because they’re coarse enough for hens to find and pick up individual particles, won’t blow away in the wind, and won’t turn to paste or soup on wet ground. Appropriate grains are sometimes bagged up and labeled as “scratch feed” or “scratch grains.”
Why Feed Scratch Grains?
There are different reasons to feed scratch grains:
- Taming the chickens. A one- or twice-daily feeding of scratch grains will be met with eagerness by the chickens, and if you make them come right up to you to get the grain, it will make them tame. (Chickens fed only out of bulk feeders may never get used to you.)
- Getting a good look at the chickens. By running up to you, you’ll get a close-up look at the chickens, which helps you spot any problems they might be having.
- Getting the hens out of the nest boxes. Hens like to laze around in nest boxes after laying their eggs, and egg collection is faster and more pleasant if the hens decamp of their own free will because you’ve just offered them a snack!
- Encouraging and directing foraging. The chickens will pick up any other yummy edibles that are in the vicinity of the scratch grain, and a bribe of scratch grain will get them to forage when they otherwise don’t feel like it, such as during hot or cold weather.
- Encouraging feed consumption. Similarly, if the chickens are unwell or unhappy, such as in the aftermath of being chased around by a dog, their appetite plummets and their production falls. But chickens are social eaters, even competitive eaters, and they’ll eat if other chickens are eating — especially if it looks like the food might be gone if they wait! Encouraging this kind of mini feeding frenzy helps keep the chickens going.
How Much Scratch Grain to Feed
The rule of thumb is to feed no more grain than the chickens will eat in twenty minutes. That maximizes competition, which means that even hens who are feeling under the weather will be motivated to eat something. And it doesn’t leave any feed on the ground to be eaten by wild birds and other critters you don’t want to be feeding.
If the hens are happy with their normal chicken feed, they may be satisfied with a small amount of scratch grain. My 400 hens are sometimes happy with only a couple of quarts of whole oats. But the benefit is real even if the quantities are small.
I keep running across blog posts praising how well Ruth Stout’s “no-work gardening” methods work, like this post on The Messy Shepherdess.
I first ran across Ruth Stout’s writing when I became interested in gardening as a child, and got a subscription to Organic Gardening.
This was around 1970, and Organic Gardening was very much an end-of-the-world prophet of doom back then. Even articles about how to grow nice tomatoes with a trellis against your house would take time out to explain how you’d better hurry up, because we’d all be dead by 1975!